May 23, 2016

Ingredient of the Week: Kalonji, Mongrelo, Nigella, Onion Seeds



nigella, kalonji, onion seeds, charnushka, black seeds, Schwarzkummel, krishnajiraka, and mungrelo

These triangulate black matte seeds are the spice commonly referred to as nigella, kalonji, onion seeds, charnushka, black seeds, Schwarzkummel, krishnajiraka, and mungrelo. Used since antiquity for both medicinal and culinary purposes this spice was found in Tutankhamen's tomb and claimed by the prophet Mohammed (PBUH) to "cure anything bit death."



Although they resemble onion seeds and are often mistakenly called as such this spice is actually the seeds of Nigella sativa, an annual flowering plant of the Ranunculacae family. Gardeners will recognize this familiar flower as a paler relative of the old fashioned annual "love in a mist" or Nigella damascena. Same genus but different species. Nigella sativa appears to be native to Turkey, Iraq, and Syria. Today it is cultivated as a spice in India and the Middle East.
The dried fruits or capsules of the Nigella sativa plant are composed of three to seven united follicles which contain the numerous seeds used as a spice. The seeds contain high levels of conjugated linoleic acid, thymoquinone, nigellone (dithymoquinone), melanthin, nigilline, and trans-anethole.


What does it taste like? I've heard the flavor described variously as peppery, smoky,  earthy like cumin, burnt onions, slightly bitter, and similar to thyme or oregano. Unless crushed, ground, or bruised with mortar and pestle the seeds have very little aroma. To me, when the seeds are raw and crushed they have a slightly astringent flavor and are reminiscent of oregano. When dry roasted or fried the seeds smell and taste just like dried oregano with a mild bitterness.

Panch Phoron

How is kalonji or nigella used? Primarily it is used whole as an accent spice atop flatbreads such as naan, in the South Asian oil preserved pickles called achari, in curries, or in the famous "panch phoron" spice mix. Panch phoron literally means "five spices" and contains equal amounts of kalonji/nigella seed, fenugreek seed, cumin seed, black mustard seed, and fennel seed. This spice mix is traditional in the cuisines of Bengal, Southern Nepal, and Eastern India. It is always used whole, never ground, and tempered in ghee or mustard oil before using in dals, meat or vegetable curries, in pickles or with fish.

Nigella or Kalonji
Shahi Jeera or Black Cumin 
Onion seeds (from onions)
Nigella or kalonji seeds are often mistakenly called or confused with black cumin, shahi jeera, and onion seeds. Here are photos of all three seeds for comparison. None of them are similar in flavor, I suppose onion seeds do look a bit like nigella/kalonji but they are much smaller.

Calmly currying on, 
Bibi

8 comments:

  1. I'll always remember an episode of The Apprentice (the UK one) where the contestants had a shopping list of items and had to find everything at the cheapest price, not a soul knew what nigella seeds were. We buy ready-made naan bread dotted with them. xxx

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    Replies
    1. Hi Vix,
      Ugh, reality game shows. I'm not surprised no one knew what these were on that show. Probably couldn't figure out how to google them.
      xox

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  2. I've only ever used them on naan, but the spice blend sounds interesting.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Goody,
      I really like the panch phoron spice blend in dals, it's really tasty!

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  3. I love a bit of panch phoron! Nothing tastes quite the same as that blend. And to my mind it makes a naan bread special.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Mim,
      I like it on naan & in dals too. I think they should make a Bengali bagel with panch phoron seeds on top!

      Delete
    2. You, Madam, are a genius!

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    3. Indeed! And would you like some garam masala gravlax and saffrom & cardamom cream cheese on that Bengali bagel, madam? I intend to masala-fy the world!

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Any questions? Please feel free to ask!

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